The world was cracking apart. Fire and smoke and debris and bodies and torn up asphalt –
Electric sparks shot across the sky from a destroyed pylon like a spluttering firework, illuminating the scene of devastation in a shock of white-blue. Homes lay in ruin; fallen structures gutted and spilling over the street, personal affects therein mangled and broken. Burst pipes spilled water across pavements, and glass peppered the ground like glittering diamonds in the half-light of dusk.
Not a soul made a sound; couldn’t have even if they wanted to.
The world wasn’t cracking apart, not really. But to the boy of fifteen who lay mute in a lengthening pool of his own blood, it may as well have been. His home. His village. Everything he ever knew or loved had been obliterated, with a force akin to something seismic.
They were gone. He knew they were gone; the moment a rapid pelt of explosives ripped apart his family home perched on the hill that preceded the village, he’d known. He had watched from the edge of the forest, a fear like nothing he had ever been prepared for tearing his chest in two, lancing him straight through the heart –
He had thought nothing of running towards the ruin that was his home, its decimated carcass backlit by greedy orange flames that furled up into the night, and he’d known he would pay for this blind bravery with his life.
He hadn’t made it far beyond the edge of the village when it happened. His feet had been tearing through dark streets, his home in the distance taunting him as the flames engulfing it burnt brighter against the fading day.
Being shot with a high calibre war-machine should have felt more explosive somehow, more sharp, more terrifying, more… just more. Instead, the boy felt numb as a shower of bullets hit him in almost every part of his body. He felt distant as he fell backwards onto the unforgiving pavement, twinkling stars suddenly bursting into view as he stared, blank eyes fixed on the constellations above.
The village fell around him in hellfire and anguished screaming, but still, he stared at the sky. An absent part of him screamed, a frantic voice in a distant corner of his mind –
Run, hide, RUN –
It didn’t matter. The serenity of dying was oddly peaceful; he felt detached, the stars keeping him company as his life-force slowly drained into the cracked concrete.
It could have been seconds, minutes or hours before something began to approach him with heavy, crunching footfalls. He couldn’t tell how long he’d lain there not-quite dying.
“Scan completed, remaining lifeforms in immediate area: one. Commence execution,” the voice was monotone and matter-of-fact. It sounded synthetic and robotic, a deep tone that filled the void of silence taking up space in his head. The boy’s view of the stars was then covered by a towering, immense form; he was made of metal and wires, guns and armour. He had red, mechanical eyes with a crazed stare, a stare with only one purpose: elimination.
A sharp, mechanical hand suddenly burst forth in a metallic screech, extending razor-sharp talons like a bird of prey honing in on a mouse; the figure was baring down on him, the red of his eyes flashing with static, whirring mechanics cranking as the fist of blades were seconds away from burying in his chest –
He still felt nothing. Felt as though he was already gone, that his body was no longer his own – it didn’t matter.
Half a second later, his everything erupted into a supernova of pain. The extended hand ploughed unceremoniously through his narrow chest – as it did, an almighty boom of crushing metal sounded through the night; sparks flew from the point of impact, and the boy suddenly jerked and stuttered violently as a series of electric shocks jolted through his limbs –
Something flashed across his vision as the unimaginable pain seared him from inside out, the hand in his chest twisting his insides with serrated steal and pulling. It was a… warning, text scrolling in his peripheral, bright and red and telling him he was…. damaged beyond repair?
The man of metal retracted his robotic fist from his chest in the next second with a wrench, revealing something bright, round and guttering weakly in his hand, its residual glow highlighting them both in a wash of neon blue.
The boy looked down at his chest. There lay not blood and gore, but metal and ruin; wires trailed from a gaping, sparking hole in his chest up into the orb of light that was slowly crushing into itself, the robotic hand closing further around it with a high-pitched whir.
“Your synthetic heart beats only because your Doctor deems it so; you are a poor imitation of life, but just as easily crushed.”
He was listening now, completely aware of that mechanic voice as those dead, red eyes pierced his own. Unimaginable fear unfurled up his spine as this man, robot, thing leaned in close.
“All lifeforms: eliminated.”
His metallic heart burst, shattering into a million sharp pieces, exploding under the pressure as if it was made of glass. The light inside flickered and flashed before dispersing completely with an echoing bang – a thick liquid oozed from the cracked, blackened exterior like otherworldly blood.
“Genos?” Someone was calling him through the haze of smoke and twisted metal and pain –
“Genos! Wake up!”
Gold-on-black eyes snapped open in the lowlight.
The next thing Genos was aware of was a face hovering over his own and a strong hand gripping his shoulder. He tried concentrate, his core stuttering rapidly with anxiety, the vestiges of sleep still sticking to him in the small moments after waking. Genos sharpened his sleep-muddled optics and finally took in the face above his own.
He surged upwards as the last of his fatigue slid from his mind, but the hand holding his shoulder kept him flat to his futon. Genos squinted at Saitama in vague curiosity at the pinched look that suddenly crossed his sensei’s face.
“Sensei? I’m sorry, I’m awake now – what’s going on?” he asked cautiously, metal fingers rising to loop around Saitama’s restraining wrist at his shoulder. Saitama’s eyes flicked to look at his hand, but just as quickly returned to gazing at Genos’s face.
“Dude, you were… shouting. I just – is everything alright? Saitama spoke, his cadence softer than usual. Genos had no time to formulate a sensible reply before his sensei leaned in further, seemingly peering into his eyes and trying to find something amiss – he could feel Saitama’s warmth as he came in closer, the pressure on his shoulder firm and grounding as it was used as leverage.
“Do we need to get you to your doctor? Are you broken? Can you –”
“Sensei… No, I – I’m not malfunctioning. I’m fully operational,” Genos cut Saitama off softly, his mind spinning. His sensei never usually paid much mind to Genos; he wasn’t invested enough in his surroundings to notice much of anything, maybe apart from when they were in a fight together. At the moment, he looked uncharacteristically ruffled and anxious in his striped pyjamas.
“Then what’s going on? Genos, you, uhh… burnt your blanket…” Saitama trailed off, finally sitting back and gesturing to Genos’s torso. As Genos let go of his sensei’s wrist and sat up unhindered, the remains of what was once his comforter slid down his metal chest as a pile of ash. The embarrassment that overtook him was swift, and he felt the synthetic skin of his face burn hotly with it; there may be a chance he was malfunctioning after all. But as Genos sat up further to commence a proper scan, seconds later an interface helpfully flashed across his vision telling him no, he was in matter-of-fact functioning at one hundred percent.
He felt his face heat even further as he lowered his eyes in supplication.
“I’m sorry sensei! I wasn’t in control, it won’t happen again. I’ll clean this up right away, I –”
“Genos…” Saitama interrupted this time, cutting through Genos’s frantic rant, making him freeze as he began to rise to his knees.
“What happened?” Saitama finished softly, his eyes oddly beseeching.
Settling into his usual seiza, Genos kept his eyes downcast as the ash drifted off and around his body. He idly noted that the futon had come away unscathed, before finally looking back at his sensei’s strained expression.
“I had a… nightmare, of sorts… nothing to be concerned about. I’ll work on a fail-safe protocol for overheating during rest-mode in future; is this amenable?” he whispered, holding Saitama’s eyes for a series of unfathomable moments. Saitama’s usually stoic face was furrowing at the brow in consideration, something ticking over in his eyes. With a large huff, he finally looked away from Genos and rubbed at the back of his neck in a seemingly resigned way, gesturing at his roommate loosely with his other hand.
“Don’t worry about it, you don’t need to do that. Do you need to… do you wanna… talk about it?” he said, and Genos let out a nervous breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding at that; Saitama wasn’t annoyed with him at all, he was concerned.
Saitama’s concern sent his core stuttering again, a rapid tattoo of electrical pulses sparking in his metal chest, and he reached out with a tentative hand to graze his sensei’s thigh where it curled beside his own folded knee. The strongest man in the world turned a curious look upon Genos’s hand on his leg, and ran his own calloused forefinger across the metal plating at Genos’s wrist in a vague sweep, before meeting gold-on-black eyes once more in silent encouragement.
“I dreamt of my own destruction, desecration beyond repair… nothing important or relevant, sensei. It wasn’t real,” Genos murmured, the back of his hand still tingling with his sensei’s touch, his palm grasping onto the hard and almost unyielding thigh underneath it; he felt as though he was anchoring himself in the present, assuring himself of his continued life, of the whirring beat of his core and continuous inner workings of his robot body. Saitama was inexorably linked to life and survival and strength, and he coveted it in his moment of weakness.
He willed his fist to loosen its hold upon his sensei, but stilled when Saitama sighed loudly and obnoxiously in his face, eyes serious and disgruntled as they withheld his own.
“Man, you’re so difficult sometimes Genos!” Saitama exclaimed, and Genos startled at the hint of vitriol in his tone. He snatched his hand back from Saitama in dismay and cradled it to his chest as if burnt, but before he could stutter out any sort of apology his sensei sighed once more and reached out to grab Genos’s hand back between two of his own, pulling it to press into his own sternum and leaning forward into Genos’s space.
“No that’s– what I meant, is that you’re difficult because you don’t ever think about yourself. You do everything for me, which I really don’t deserve, by the way, and the one time we focus on you, you brush it off like it’s nothing… I know you know it makes me uncomfortable to do this emotional stuff, but you’re allowed to be selfish once in a while, dude. If you need to talk, talk; don’t hold out for my sake…” Saitama finished, and Genos felt like this might have only the third time he had ever heard his sensei talk so much in one go. He looked at his metal hand closed between Saitama’s rough, warm hands, hands that could shatter worlds, hands that in this moment were unerringly gentle, and let out his own resigned sigh that shuddered on the way out of his synthetic lips before beginning to explain.
“I have a recurring nightmare. The Mad Cyborg kills me the night my family were murdered, but he kills me as I am now, and not as I was before… so that my death is permanent. So that Kuseno can’t fix me. I haven’t dreamt it for a while, but it happens, normally when I’m stressed, or when I sleep alone…”
Saitama’s brows pulled together in consternation, fidgeting a bit with Genos’s hand between his own before answering, his expression turning assessing. Genos felt overwhelmed at the range of emotion flitting across his sensei’s face and wondered if he alone is special, if Saitama cared enough to let his emotion shine through his ever-encroaching boredom and indifference…
It was an exciting thought. One Genos was careful not to give much strength to, lest he became reliant on his sensei’s limited capacity for emotion for his own self-serving gratification.
“Ah. Well… you’re safe with me Genos, you know that right? I’ll never let anyone do that to you. Um, do you, uhh… do you need – why did it happen this time? Can we stop them?” Saitama said, his words stumbling as he quite visibly began to feel awkward about having to talk like this at all. He gently placed Genos’s hand in his lap and tucked his own into his pyjama sleeves in an attempt to quell his fidgeting. However, the invitation to touch was obviously still there, so Genos left his hand resting just above his sensei’s knees, idly smoothing his fingers perpendicular to the stipes running through Saitama’s pyjamas.
A shiver rolled through Saitama’s whole frame, and Genos tilted his head in curiosity at the seemingly visceral reaction to his touch as he answered.
“Saitama-sensei, being here with you is enough. Living here with you and learning from you is enough, and one day I’ll be strong enough to avoid such demise under your tutelage, and there will be no reason for the nightmares to continue. You’re already doing enough by accepting me as your disciple, sensei. For now, I must be strong enough to face the reality of my own weakness, of my own morality and fragility, and let it discipline my mind. You already said yourself that I should concentrate within as I have no physical body, I –”
“Genos – you’re doing it again; try to keep it simple. Just – if there’s anything else I can ever do for you, or if you need anything just, uh… ask. OK?” Saitama implored, his expression quite serious and his brow pulled down in an almost-frown of concern. Genos found he could do nothing but nod in that pregnant moment, his hand stilling on his sensei’s thigh and his eyes meeting and holding Saitama’s for an intense, infinitesimal moment.
Genos gathered his wits about him enough to speak, and leant in closer to Saitama so that their noses were inches apart.
"There is nothing, this is just one of those things. Thank you, your kindness knows no bounds; you are truly a brilliant man," Genos finished, his whisper carrying softly in the space between them. Saitama gave a small, slightly jerky nod of his own, his eyes wide on his still serious-looking face, before leaning back minutely from his disciple.
“Lemme just… I’ll check if we have another blanket, alright?” Saitama suddenly stumbled to his feet, a vague, curious flush darkening his ears as he dropped his eyes away. Genos pulled his wayward hand back into his lap and watched with his glowing golden eyes as his sensei dived into the hall, and listened to muttered curses and exclamations as Saitama rustled nosily through their clean laundry hamper.
“Sensei…?” Genos called tentatively, but he only received a grumble in response. Shrugging to himself as the strange moment they had shared dispersed, he reached up to run his hand through his messy bed-head. Genos then looked back at his lap at the mess he’d made and sighed greatly, pulling himself up from his futon in search of the dustpan and brush, his metal feet tapping rhythmically along Saitama’s wooden floor as he stepped lightly into the kitchen.
By the time the mess had been swept and turned out into the bin, Genos made his way back into their living space to find Saitama looking benignly into their wardrobe, shutting it with a click before turning around and meeting Genos as he made it half way across the room.
“We don’t have a spare blanket for you…” Saitama’s usual façade of indifference had seemingly returned, but because Genos had studied this face from many different angles and in many different ways, he knew that his sensei was feeling perturbed, and maybe a little… embarrassed? Or unsure? Either way, Genos took a step closer to Saitama and felt the usual urge to comfort and coddle this man in curl in his artificial gut; he straightened out the skewed collar of his sensei’s pyjama shirt, but let his hand linger tentatively on the buttons near his throat, a careful caress over sleep-warmed fabric.
“I don’t need anything, I don’t feel the cold,” he reassured, his hand catching on the buttons down Saitama’s front has he dropped it back to his side. Saitama’s ears were subtly reddening again, and he appeared to collect himself before huffing out a quiet breath and shuffling on the spot.
“That’s not really the point and you know it. Share mine, we can look for a new one in the sales tomorrow morning,” Saitama said quickly, and without waiting for a response, he slipped around Genos and knelt down next to his futon, sliding it across the floor closer to the cyborg’s own before flopping down dramatically and pulling the covers up and over his shoulder.
Genos lingered for a while in consideration, assessing Saitama’s side-profile before approaching as quietly as his metal frame allowed. He lowered himself to his futon and then rolled to face his sensei, meeting dark, bored-looking eyes in the low-light.
“Truthfully sensei, I don’t need it. Do not worry about me,” he started again, and he just about caught Saitama’s quick eye-roll before the man shuffled closer to him, pulling his heart-print blanket up and over Genos with an impatient flick of his wrist.
“Shut up, Genos,” Saitama grumbled good-naturedly, before repositioning the covers around himself and shoving his arm under his pillow. They stared at one another for a while in the dark, and Genos felt himself blink in wonderment as he tugged the shared comforter tighter around his shoulder.
“Thank you Saitama-sensei…” Genos said quietly, watching as the older man shrugged nonchalantly, dropping Genos’s gaze to close his eyes and shuffle about contentedly, mashing his face into his pillow.
“I know you like to feel human, as much as you try to tell yourself you're not. It’s not about what you need; it’s about what you want. Same goes for the nightmares; if you ever need to, you know… talk, I don’t mind,” the words were slightly muffled by the pillow pressed against his mouth, but Genos heard them all the same; for the third time that night he felt his core stutter and whir in nervous excitement, a sensation that was purely phantom, he knew, because his core almost always worked at optimum capacity and rarely faltered. He felt the tell-tale prick of tears in his eyes, but blinked rapidly and took a deep breath to quell them; the last thing he needed was to ruin Saitama’s covers as well with his ridiculous oil-based tears.
“You’re so kind and thoughtful, I don’t deserve it, you’re–” a loud groan of discontent cut Genos’s heartfelt proclamation off, and Saitama opened his one visible eye blearily to glare at his disciple exasperatedly.
“I’m not any of those things. Go to sleep, Genos,” came Saitama’s still muffled response, his tone whiny as it came out and Genos felt himself grin; he knew how Saitama felt about Genos’s constant stream of compliments, knew how they sometimes made his emotionally-stunted sensei writhe in embarrassment. That didn’t mean Genos wouldn’t keep trying.
“Alright, I’ll tell you in the morning sensei,” Genos settled for, feeling laughter bubbling up his chest in an attempt to escape as his sensei let out another groan of complete resignation and despair, turning completely from Genos to settle facing the other away, huffing greatly as he did. That was enough to force a short, happy laugh to finally burst from behind Genos’s teeth, and he had to press his hand to his sternum in an attempt to stop more slightly delirious, happy laughs from breaking free.
This earned an amused snort from his sensei, any tension that had been in his shoulders melting away in that moment of shared humour. Genos shuffled a little under their covers, relishing the closeness to another living body, to Saitama’s living body. He felt his breath leave him in a rush of contentment and suddenly felt a bone-deep tired settle over his cyborg body, the heat and comfort of their shared space warming him right through to his toes, despite the fact Genos was essentially a living furnace.
Genos discreetly moved closer again, trying his best to be quiet and stealthy. When Saitama did nothing but breathe deeply and rub his bald head into his pillow, Genos settled on the very edge of his own futon, his bent legs subtly moving to rest near the backs of his sensei’s knees. Their forms were close but not touching, like an unfinished but perfectly aligned puzzle piece.
Saitama didn’t react, and even seemed to shuffle backwards on his pillow until Genos could smell the scent coming off the back of his neck; woody musk and minty body wash with a hint of their flowery laundry detergent. There was something inherently Saitama about the combination, unique and undeniably masculine when smelt as a whole; it was comfort, it was home, and Genos let his olfactory senses ramp up to full capacity to take in the heady smell without a hint of shame or question. He decided to leave his sense of propriety at the door and leave tomorrow’s problems for tomorrow’s Genos, as Saitama might say.
“Goodnight sensei,” Genos whispered into the night, and he was sure that Saitama could feel his breath as he spoke, because goose bumps rose in the wake of it across his nape.
“Yeah. G’night Genos,” Saitama managed, just audible to Genos’s advanced hearing as he mumbled tiredly.
Genos felt himself lingering on the periphery of sleep then, exhaustion suddenly like a weight on his mind. Unconsciously (or so he’d tell himself later), his hand slid across the scant inches between them and settled softly on Saitama’s side, just under his ribs and above his protruding hip bone.
Once again, Saitama didn’t react outwardly, his long, slow breaths the only sounds breaking the silence of the night.
It was warm and comfortable and just felt right in that moment, and Genos’s sleepy mind decided it was best he keep it there as he slipped off into sweet, dreamless oblivion.